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The Myth of the Closed Mind: Understanding Why and How People Are Rational

The Myth of the Closed Mind: Understanding Why and How People Are Rational

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  • Publication Date:
    December 15, 2011
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     Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
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    612 KB
  • Publisher:
    Open Court
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Nominated by peoplesbookprize.com

Patron: Frederick Forsyth CBE
Founding Patron:  Dame Beryl Bainbridge DBE
At last, a twenty-first century philosopher willing to stand up and argue for the power of sheer human rationality. Because Ray Percival is so convinced, correctly, of the impact of a rational argument on the human intellect, he is unafraid to offer a no-holds-barred, comprehensive brief on the strength of rationality. Surveying history and reason from Socrates to todays age of terrorism, Percival has written a tract that Milton, Jefferson, Mill, or Popper would be proud of. The next time I get into an argument with a well-meaning person who wishes to censor a propagandistic, corporate, or individually hateful point of view, I will recommend a reading of Percivals The Myth of the Closed Mind. PAUL LEVINSON, author of New New Media Ray Percival calls his own view outrageous, and it does indeed outrage the sensibilities of todays shallow and fashionable intellectuals, who continually bleat about human irrationality. But even those already disposed to agree with Percival and Aristotle that humans are rational animals will still be repeatedly surprised by the many delightful, witty, and profound insights in The Myth of the Closed Mind. How much better to have written one classic work than a hundred meretricious potboilers. If he were henceforth to write nothing else, Professor Percival has his classic. J.C. LESTER, author of Escape from Leviathan Some of what Percival claims is outrageous but some of it is not. Even though he may not convince most of his readers, many of his arguments are both ingenious and entertainingand often point to unresolved issues in the theory of rationality. JAMES FETZER, author of The Evolution of Intelligence and Render Unto Darwin

For as long as I can remember I've respected the power of logical argument. I've always wanted to be persuasive on account of the validity of my arguments and when tempted to substitute an immediately attractive but unsound argument for a valid but slower-to-take-effect argument, I've always resisted the temptation. This struck me as not only the noble thing to do, but also prudent in the long run. If you adhere as best you can to the truth and to valid argument, then you're guided by principles that are always there for you as you navigate life, because they are universal. You will be like a captain at sea relying on the guidance of the fixed stars to navigate. If, on the other hand, you're guided by the momentary advantages of the impressive but bogus argument, you're lost in a sea without fixed stars. You will constantly have to learn (or create) new charts to navigate.
Suppose you're convinced that some people are just impervious to valid argument, that their minds are closed to reason, but that they may be amenable to poetic or humorous cajoling, ridicule, or even barefaced coercion. It's even more tempting then to ignore the civil give and take of sincere argument. But to succumb to that temptation is a large step to a barbaric or at least philistine world. I'm arguing in this book that the temptation is much less alluring than generally supposed, because it's based on the myth of the closed mind. On the other hand, the belief in the power of sound argument can become a force for civilisation and freedom. The problem of the closed mind has been with me for a long time. For a professional thinker it's important, but also rare, to find a problem with real depth. It is in the working out of the problem that a thinker produces his ideas and they can only be as deep as the problem they are meant to solve. I'm happy to have found such a problem. For me this conundrum has been a fountain of further puzzles and enigmas that have stimulated many other fruitful ideas. Because of the way I develop my argument, I like to think of this book as an ocean into which I invite you. In the Prologue, I walk with you down a gently inclined sandy beach to the water's edge. Even as you step into the water, the slope remains gentle and continues like this as you imperceptibly walk into deeper and deeper waters. Eventually, you will be swimming in deep water, but you'll feel in control and comfortable as you encounter slightly more difficult ramifications of my outrageous idea.
I would like to thank my friend Paul Wilson for intellectual conversations and fishing adventures that kept my mind fresh and active while writing my book and also he and his wife Anita for allowing to me to write a significant part of this book at their home in Scotland during university vacations. I also wish to thank my friends John Ashcroft-Jones, Brian Killow and Graham Richards for their moral support at a key point in the completion of my book. They were my Three Musketeers. 
(Note of credit: on page 93 of The Myth of the Closed Mind I use an argument from David Miller - University of Warwick - about the discussion by Plato in the Meno about the nature of knowledge. I mention the credit for this use of Plato's argument because of an error of omission on my part during the proof checking. Miller's influence on my book is profound - though doubtless he will have his disagreements with it - and I regard him as perhaps the greatest of the "Popperian Knights". I confess that this may be partly due to the fact that he was and is the best teacher I ever had.)

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